After a dinner with the Farmers Fishers & Bakers of Georgetown it seemed only appropriate to shift our focus away from the fruits of the land to the gems of the sea. The rumors had been circling about how fantastic the restaurants in the Black Restaurant Group were and it just so happened they had one, The Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, near Logan Circle, which felt like DC’s newest trendy restaurant and bar scene. Just walking down the block we noticed at least four new eateries under construction with “opening soon” banners strewn across butcher-paper-covered windows. Thankfully, The Pearl Dive Oyster Palace was open for business, and the cherry on top…it was across the street from the Studio Theater where we had tickets for a play that evening.
The Pearl Dive veterans in the group had nothing but praise for the restaurant’s raw oysters, grilled fish, extensive cocktail list, and the overall ambiance of the dining experience. Upstairs at Black Jack, a bar owned by the same proprietors, is a dynamic craft cocktail lounge where mixologists incorporate fresh locally sourced seasonal ingredients into innovative libations.
Black Jack looked like a lot of fun, but we were in the mood for something piscatorial, so the downstairs restaurant suited us just fine. Upon entering the establishment, we first stepped into the packed bar, which I’m thinking is crowded regardless of any advertised happy hour, is medium sized. The dining room (only slightly larger than the bar) is lined with booths along the exterior of the room with tabletops in between. They definitely heightened the seafood theme (and maximized their square footage) by packing us in like sardines with the tables pushed so close.
So there we sat, surrounded by thick twisted ropes and nautical trinkets hanging from the ceiling and on weathered brick walls. The décor would have felt campy and cliché, but they tied everything together with metal Nantucket serving platters and buckets which transported diners to a fish house on the docks of some nondescript fisherman’s village in the northeast.
But interior design was the least of our focus as we scanned the menu for the perfect combination of raw, fried, and roasted delicacies from the ocean.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
Because they (whoever “they” are) say you should progress through your meal from cold to warm dishes, we started with a platter of fresh oysters. Our very knowledgeable and friendly waitress recommended we do a sampling of three different types: some briny, some creamy, and from different bodies of water. They were fantastic and what I remember most is how perfectly shucked they were, because there were no pesky shell remnants to ruin the single chew with a crunch.
They were offering a crawfish boil special so I insisted we get it since I’ve never really had crawfish before. The steamed crustaceans, fingerling potatoes, and corn on the cob was piping hot when it arrived in a bucket and a sealed in a plastic bag to prevent the steam from escaping. We tore it open and poured out the contents into the bucket and struggled to get to the sweet meat inside their little crustacean bodies. To be honest….it’s not worth the effort. A lot of work with very little payoff. Besides, they were over-seasoned. After just a few bites, our tongues were swollen and burning and our eyes were tearing up. Food shouldn’t be painful.
From their hot oyster plates, we got the wood grilled East Coast Oysters with garlic, red chile butter and gremolata (a chopped herb condiment with parsley, garlic, lemon zest, etc).
We shared the chopped salad, because it’s good to having something “green” at every meal. The salad of mixed market vegetables was lightly tossed in a buttermilk jalapeno dressing and topped with a mound of crispy popcorn crawfish.
Since Jonathan’s mother eats like a bird she usually gets by with an appetizer for her main dish. How she does it, I have no idea, but she got the crab cake and greens, which she later bartered for bites of each of the other dishes on the table. The crab meat was fresh and light with only a hint of mayo.
The Chesapeake Rockfish served over the most amazing sweet potato puree that was a savory candy in my mouth. Alongside the fish filet were some roasted market vegetables swimming in a creamy creole mustard vin blanc sauce.
For dessert we shared two items. The butterscotch pie, which was a layer of fudge brownie topped with a thick butterscotch custard.
And a special seasonal dessert just in time for the cherry blossoms was this cherries jubilee parfait of ice cream and fudge brownies. Yum!
So to wrap things up, if you find yourself in DC and you’re looking for a fresh take on seafood, then Pearl Dive Oyster Palace is your destination. The fish is fresh and the portions are generous. The service is solid, and the vibe is hip